WASHINGTON, April 24 (UPI) -- The purported controversy over where President Barack Obama was born is one of the most bizarre legal and political episodes in U.S. history, with millions believing as an article of faith that he was not born in the United States.
That would mean, of course, that Obama is not legitimately president.
Article II, section I of the Constitution plainly says, "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of president ... "
But to the astonishment of "birther" true believers, Obama refuses to ... well, go.
Despite a controversy supposedly based on the Constitution, no court, military or civil, from the U.S. Supreme Court on down, has ever given "birther" assertions the slightest traction. No federal judge has ever treated a "birther" suit as anything remotely serious -- with the exception of being seriously annoying.
Not so politicians.
Real estate and gambling mogul Donald Trump, eyeing the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has raised the "birther" banner repeatedly this month, garnering considerable publicity for it.
In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Trump said: "There's a real question about the birth certificate. There's a real question about (Obama's) own citizenship."
Trump trimmed his bets by saying he "hopes" Obama will be able to produce a legitimate birth certificate.
Obama and the first lady released their tax return last week, but Trump, listed by Forbes magazine last year as the 153rd richest American with $2.4 billion, said he wouldn't be releasing his right away.
"Maybe I'm going to do the tax returns when Obama does his birth certificate," Trump said. "I'd love to give my tax returns. I may tie my tax returns into Obama's birth certificate."
Earlier, Trump attracted some attention by promising to redo one of the White House rooms into a ballroom with $100 million of his own money, using the architecture of one of his hotels or his elaborate Florida mansion as a model.
The ebullient Trump has been leading in some GOP candidate polls, and the "birther" issue doesn't appear to be hurting him.
Politico said an amazing 48 percent of Iowa Republicans say they don't believe Obama, the son of a U.S. mother and a Kenyan father, was born in the United States, as reported by an automated survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. The poll indicated 28 percent said they were unsure whether the president was born in this country, as required by the Constitution.
The poll of 419 Iowa Republicans was taken April 15-17, Politico said. It has a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points.
Without giving specifics, Religion Dispatches magazine reported, "In recent polls, Trump leads the field with 37 percent of birther Republicans ranking him their top pick."
A prominent Tea Party activist, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., stole some of Trump's thunder last Wednesday. Appearing on "Good Morning America," Bachmann, also a possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, was shown a certified copy of Obama's birth certificate.
"That's what should settle it," Bachmann conceded. Though she has expressed doubt in the past, Bachmann said, "I take the president at his word and I think -- again I would have no problem and apparently the president wouldn't, either. Introduce that, we're done. Move on."
Trump isn't the only prominent "birther" working the headlines and the blogosphere.
Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a Vietnam veteran who retired from the U.S. Army in 1993, has gotten considerable attention in the last few months as a "birther" proponent. He's even flirted with a supporter's suggestion that he and Trump form the 2012 GOP ticket.
Vallely doesn't believe Americans should wait on the courts for the "birther" issue to take hold, but should rise up as one and just tell the Obama administration it's time to go.
In a speech at the Lincoln Reagan dinner in Virginia City, Mont., last June, Vallely said some Obama officials are "treasonous," WorldNetDaily reported.
Vallely told his audience, in remarks posted on his Web site, "a call for a national petition for new elections to select the next president of the United States of America must be initiated. We can wait no longer for a traditional change of power and new government."
Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, Vallely said "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of (the rights outlined in the declaration), it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it ... ."
Moreover, "We cannot permit the current leaders in the White House and halls of Congress to continue in their efforts to lead us down the road of progressive socialism and destruction of America," he said. "This is the current battle that we constitutionalists face, and we must be aggressive in our efforts ... ." Citing the presidential oath of office to uphold the Constitution, he said: "Sadly, we have seen them violate their oath. Fraud, lying, and corruption are rampant and some have engaged in treasonous activities, and they effectively thumb their noses at us and have sold you to the highest bidder. ...
"'We the People' have had enough. Enough is enough," Vallely said. "The Obama White House and identifiable members of Congress are now on a progressive socialist, treasonous death march and are bankrupting and weakening the country. We have watched them violate their sacred oath of office. 'We, the People' cannot wait for and solely rely on the next round of elections in November of this year. It is now and each day that these public servants must put the citizens' interests above self-interest by resigning immediately."
Vallely, in case you couldn't guess, is also a military analyst for the Fox News Channel.
Even the retired general, however, pales in comparison with the uber-"birther" -- Orange County, Calif., lawyer and dentist Orly Taitz.
She once proffered the federal courts a document purporting to be Obama's Kenyan birth certificate -- conceding up front the possibility it might be a fake (it was), but blasting critics of the document as "Obama's thugs in mainstream media." The fake certificate was stamped "The Republic of Kenya" but dated before Kenya officially became a republic.
A federal judge in Santa Ana, Calif., tossed out her lawsuit claiming President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, noting that Taitz and her supporters have attacked those who disagree with their claim as "unpatriotic and even treasonous."
Another Taitz encounter in one of her many appearances in court was even more dismissive.
Taitz, who herself was born in the old Soviet Union, was fined $20,000 by U.S. District Judge Clay Land in Columbus, Ga., for abuse of the judicial process. The lawyer was trying to block the deployment of her client, an Army physician, to Iraq, saying since Obama purportedly was not born in the United States, he was serving as president illegally.
When Land refused to issue a restraining order, Taitz accused him of treason, media reports said, and continued to file motion after motion, even after being warned not to do so.
A federal appeals court refused to block the penalty, and Land's court began proceedings to put a lien on her property.
In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the penalty, Taitz called it a "political hit" designed to protect Obama. Her request first went to Justice Clarence Thomas, who refused, then to Justice Samuel Alito, who referred the request to the full court, which also refused to intervene.
While there is no indication that the "birther" movement will go away anytime soon, there are some signs some old line Republican politicians are losing patience with it -- or at least don't want to see the party saddled with the issue going into the 2012 presidential election.
Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last week vetoed a state bill that would have required state candidates to present "long-form" birth certificates.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Bush adviser Karl Rove suggested in February Republicans should admit Obama was born in the United States and move on and focus on the real issues.
Hawaii's Republican Gov. Linda Lingle signed a law in May allowing state officials to ignore repeated requests for Obama's birth certificate.
Lingle said on WABC, New York: "I had my health director, who is a physician by background, go personally view the birth certificate in the birth records of the Department of Health. The president was, in fact, born at Kapi'olani Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. And that's just a fact."
A campaign investigation by the non-partisan FactCheck.org was even more emphatic -- though it seems to make little difference in the "birther" universe. FactCheck is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, part of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. It's largely funded by the Annenberg Foundation.
Under the headline "The truth about Obama's birth certificate," the investigative site said, "In June (2008), the Obama campaign released a digitally scanned image of his birth certificate to quell speculative charges that he might not be a natural-born citizen. But the image prompted more blog-based skepticism about the document's authenticity. And recently, author Jerome Corsi, whose book attacks Obama, said in a TV interview that the birth certificate the campaign has is 'fake.'
"We beg to differ. FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as supporting documents to this article," the site said. "Our conclusion: Obama was born in the USA just as he has always said."
FactCheck also notes what other investigators point out: Nearly 50 years ago, two Hawaiian newspapers carried Obama's birth announcement for Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu.
"Of course, it's distantly possible that Obama's grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his U.S. citizenship in order to run for president some day," FactCheck said. "We suggest that those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat."